Saturday, February 27, 2010

AH-'ll Bee B-ahck!

Mom and Aunt June left earlier today. Their flight was at about 9 and mine wasn’t until 3 so I had some time to kill after I dropped them off at the small St Thomas airport.
I went back and helped Auntie Clarice hang a picture on the wall of her one bedroom condo. It was a big heavy picture that had apparently fallen in the past and she was wanting to get it back up, but I was determined that it would be up solidly as the last thing I wanted to find out is she had been beaned in her sleep by a 200 pound picture of the setting sun…
I cleaned out the condo mom and I had stayed in and showered and finished packing and then took Auntie Clarice down to Redhook for our last lunch. Well – she actually took me partly. I only had about $15 in cash and, the one thing about St Thomas is there are tons of places that don’t take credit cards and the ATMs can be finicky as I had been refused cash at some points and had it spewed out at me on other occasions.
While we munch on shrimp po’boys and hamburgers, we discussed my like or dislike of the island and whether I would ever come back.
There had been one even with the local Kmart and mom’s prescription that had quite soured me on the hospitality of the “natives”. I won’t go into detail – sorry, I’m sure you all love that – but long and short, a full day was taken to arrange for things to get her medication… and it was a meaningless full day with clueless people who never really tried to help us. And then, when we went to pick up the prescription, it took about 2 hours and even then we finally left in disgust, no pill bottle in hand. They had tried my patience to the maximum.
Overall – I loved a lot about the island and I would totally come back to the Virgin Islands! The weather, the beaches, the condos with the view. It was a fun week.
However, I will fill out a comment card for those who are interested.
Overall hospitality of island – (scale of 1 – 10, 1 being lowest and 10 being highest) – 2
Helpfulness of Islanders – 2
Friendliness of locals – 1
Driving skills of locals - -1
The islanders never smile at you and make you feel as if you’ve invaded their island paradise, which I’m sure we have, but whatever – stop working at the t-shirt hut and then you won’t have to deal with us! The term “island time” is in full force here. They do things at their own pace, and I think their own pace is set at “bug the crap out of the tourist” mode. I honestly could see them taking their time or ignoring you, just to tick you off.
My other thought was that the water is SO much bluer in the Bahamas. That’s what I remember. I remember being on the power boat coming down from Ft Lauderdale to Bimini and being in the middle of the ocean and the water being a crystal blue that was clearer than bathwater that you could see right to the bottom of the ocean. It was seriously that clear! Every Cay we visited in the Bahamas had the most amazing water and reefs.
The water was definitely a lot bluer over by Virgin Gorda. I could look down from the boat when we pulled in to dock and I could see down. There were patches of clear blue water around St Thomas, but overall, it just wasn’t that impressive I didn’t think.
St John was a little bit nicer as it was not had inhabited as St Thomas and the locals seemed a little more friendly. The buildings seemed a little newer and cleaner.
My overall take on my St Thomas vacation was 4 stars (out of 5). I think that overall I had a really great time and I love my new tan and my really bleached blonde hair! I haven’t gotten this in so long as I haven’t taken a beach vacation in forever! Auntie Clarice is already asking if I would come back next year – she didn’t think I had a good time – I’ll be back, though J

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Day At The Baths

It’s the second to the last day – sad.
Right from the beginning, Auntie Clarece had been saying that we all have to go over to the baths and the only day the ferry runs is on Thursday so, it was decided ahead of time that Thursday would be the day we would go. This is what we had prepared ahead and brought our passports for. We were ready!
The baths are in Virgin Gorda, BVI (British Virgin Islands), the island on the side of Tortola which is the first of the BVIs. The baths themselves are on the south tip of the island and are these cave formations that the sea flows into and collects in pools or baths within the rocks. I had this grandeur idea of the baths in my mind – it sounded so Englishy – like the place where sick people go to get healed and then take tea at the side of the waters. And, the way Auntie Clarece made it sound, it was this deserted island that this little boat would take us to and then drop us off and we would have to swim for shore, carrying our sack lunches over our heads. Then we would have to scale some magnificent cliff and climb over coral and other dangerous things and then, once we were there, there was absolutely nothing to do but explore the baths. That’s what we had painted in our heads.
So, Wednesday came and we called ahead to make reservations, but mom just wasn’t sure that she would be able to make the trip. She had been a little light headed and was trying to figure out her blood pressure medication, on top of trying to get it refilled on the island. So, she was just not sure if she could make it, and if she did, if it would be safe for her. And then they all peeled off one by one… Aunt June said that if mom wasn’t going then she wouldn’t go and then Auntie Clarece said that she had been there before so she wouldn’t worry about going back again. It was left with me. “Go, Alison. You should go!”
So, go I did.
I left the condo at 7:20 sharp to make sure I got down the road to the ferry and found a place to park and got my ticket – I had a pleasant 45 minute wait down the road – but at least I got all taken care of and was ready to hop on the packed ferry boat once it was ready to leave.
Mind you, the picture I had, I would be on this nice power boat like we used to have when I nannied. Me and several other well tanned people would lay around on the deck of the boat while we screamed along the blue water straight to Virgin Gorda. I hoped that there were enough people that I could blend in but not too many that would crowd me out.
Reality is frequently extremely different. So was my reality. The boat we were led to was a dirty, blackened, old charter boat with outdated vinyl seating below and cracked, white metal benches above. I chose to go above and was followed by a herd of people. I placed my backpack on the seat next to me and figured that would count as my sailing buddy. I had my seat assignment all to myself.
The couple behind me slowly chattered away as they discussed everything from the virtues of the island to the chose of friends of the husband. Their thick New Jersey accent pelted off my ears achingly…. “WH-ear d’ya think th-aye g-awt that frum?” as they rambled on about boats and clothes and food that they saw along the way. On and on…
We had to stop at St John on the way where we picked up more passengers – more treats! This time, a lovey dovey couple from Portland ran up the stairs as soon as we docked and went around to every bench on the upstairs asking people “are you staying up here? Are you staying up here?” and then coming to me and putting the question to me like, since I was alone, I didn’t deserve to be wasting a bench up top. When everyone conceded that they weren’t going anywhere, the couple stood in the middle of the deck looking around in bewilderment while the woman loudly whined “WHERE did ALL these PEOPLE come FROM?!” loudly emphasizing random words. And then continuing “Aren’t ANY of them getting OFF?!” and then they turned around and sluffed their feet down the stairs while Jersey girl behind me twitched her neck and said to her boyfriend “Did she j-est a-sk wh-air these pea-ple cay-m frum?!”
The boat started backing out and I settled back in my little lonesome seat, sighing with contentment that I had won the battle of “single in the seat”. Of course not – Portland boyfriend decided not sacrifice and came back up the stairs by himself. Settling into the seat, he pulled out his 30 sunscreen and started lathering himself up while playing 20 questions with me. “So – are you finding the people here nice?” “Have you ever been here before?” “Where are you staying?” AHHHH.
And it doesn’t end nicely there. Portland girlfriend was not to be left alone, so, she came up to “check” on Portland boyfriend and ended up sitting on his lap. Well, it wasn’t even technically on his lap as it was more between his legs. But it was okay, because as they told me “my girlfriend is like a size 0 so she doesn’t take up much room”. They whole way over, his leg was glued to mine and I was shoved against the railing.
It was about an hour later we finally got off the boat. The view was quite nice on the way over and the breeze kept things from being too hot. Somehow, in my head, I knew I was going to be the last one off the boat and – thanks to Portland boyfriend (which Portland girlfriend had smartly clambered down the steps right when we were pulling up so she was the first one off the boat and in the line for customs) who was kind enough to let everyone go before us, I was indeed the last one off the boat. There P.B. and I stood by ourselves at the back of the line, pleasantly chatting, when all of a sudden P.G. ran back and said “come on – we’re saving a place for you!” and P.B. said “have a nice day” to me and followed P.G. back up to the front. Which – when I watched them – P.G. had a 7 or 8 year old daughter that, I’m presuming, she had left below in the boat when she came up to sit on P.B.’s lap! Unbelievable.
The line for customs was extremely slow and I was indeed the last person (which – note to self – I must get a new passport as they’re on the last pages where the Visas are supposed to go and I’m scared that someone in some country is going to put up a stink about that… I’ve finally run out of room in my good old blue book). There was one of the bus taxis out front waiting for me with the second half of the passengers and as soon as I jumped in, we bumped off down the road to the baths which were about 4 miles away.
It was absolutely gorgeous there and it was quite funny to be on the British side! Whereas the majority of people in St Thomas and St John are American with our good old U.S of A accents, here, the norm was British with their little lits and polite “you first, dear”s. Funny – I looked around and spotted people as British, British, American… and you know how I did it – sure enough – the teeth! Too funny – it was totally, stereotypically funny!
There was a small, very pretty and pristine beach that I hit for a while first. The water was what I remember from the Bahamas – absolutely crystal clear and undisturbed. The shoreline went out for a few feet and then rolled down quickly so that you walked out up to you ankles and all of a sudden you were at your waist. The waves were intense too – they literally sucked you in and pushed you out. Everyone was getting knocked down, but it was “quite lovely” all in all J The beach was pretty sparse in comparison to Magan’s Bay Beach and I just sat there and read for a good hour or so. (I’m working on my third book this trip! I haven’t done that in ages!).
I then hopped over to the beachside bar thing and grabbed a cheeseburger before I went off to explore the baths. They were absolutlely nothing that I had imagined! There were a couple little pools inside these caves. They had a few steep wooden ladders built up in some areas and you could walk in to them. It was interesting, but it took all of 5 minutes to see everything.
That being done, and with about an hour left, I started back up to the top and decided to get a drink at the “Top of the Baths” restaurant. That was BEAUTIFUL! It had this great pool and these flowers and a terrific view of the water! It looked very Mediterranean rather than Caribbean. All in all, a good end to the day.
The boat ride back, most all of us tucked in and slept. With all the sun and the breeze and all – we were a tired lot.
Would I recommend the baths – definitely yes – get that checked off your list. Its not a huge site but its definitely beautiful and relaxing and you’ll leave having a stamp for the BVI in your passport! Not everyone can say that so – don’t miss the opportunity if it presents itself!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'm A View-Junkie

I became glaringly aware of one of my many painful downfalls within 15 minutes into the trail. With sweat pouring down my back, my legs dusty and hair flopping listlessly in my eyes, I continued to go upwards on a meaningless trail. I am a view-junkie. A pure, unadulterated, will-do-anything-for-it view-junkie.
Flash back to the beginning of day three. It’s a hot, sunny day out and Auntie Clarice is wanting to make the short ferry trip over to St John. Mom has rested, Aunt June has taken her pills, we’ve all eaten breakfast and we’re ready to fully cooperate with this plan. We head over to Redhook to the ferry terminal and the St John ferry which leaves hourly. Its only about a half a mile down the road to the condo, but with three 80-something year olds, as perky as they are, its easiest to drive down and drop them off at the door and then have me circle like a vulture looking for parking.
I actually end up running up a little hill, parking and then walking back down to find that they’ve all purchased tickets and we’re ready to go in about 5 minutes. The three of them sit on a bench, chattering happily and giggling like little girls. Put the prospect of a few shops in front of them and they’re giddy with anticipation.
The ferry arrives and three of us stride up top while mom opts to sit below. Apparently she doesn’t like things in her ear and, the wind whistling in her ears constitutes something in her ears. I sit with her for a few minutes and then climb back upstairs to the deck to snap some more pictures of distant St. John and sailboats and the water.
Its already been announced to the trio that I am not planning on participating in their island driving tour. I’m in for something more physical and more exciting. I’m in a for a good long hike! I’ve scoped things out and have discovered that in the late 50’s, a bunch of land was purchased and donated to the U.S. government by Laurence Rockefeller. It was his ideal that this land would be set up as a national park of sorts and so over half of the island itself is indeed a National Park. There are some great trails and a lot of old “ruins” from sugar plantations. A variety of trails leads to different points and most all of them lead to one of many beaches.
Reef Bay Trail is the trail that I’m determined to take. It’s a “strenuous” trail and it not only leads past several old sugar plantation buildings but a mill itself. AND, to boot, there is a jut off trail that leads to something called the Pyroglyphs. I’m not quite sure what this is but it sounds like a trail I want to take as well.
Reef Bay is about 4 miles from the town so I have to hire a taxi bus to take me there. The only problem that seems to present itself is that I’m not sure how I’ll be getting back. I’m toted up to the trail head in the bus and then am given a phone number that I can call for a taxi, but the driver is unsure if anyone will actually come back and get me. Oh well – that’s a problem for another day – or, actually, another hour.
The trail is approximately 2.5 miles, and the Pyroglyphs trail is another half a mile. I’m told that it takes a total of about 4 hours to do the trail in full and that I should make sure to start back up by 4pm as it gets dark. I’m out to beat this time as I’m not completely sure how they’ve judged things. It could be an overweight person who is 90 years old and has a walker to complete the trail so they figure, that should be the benchmark. Or, it could be a Everest summiter did the trail in 4 and that’s the record. Either way, I have told the threesome that I would meet them back in town at 3:30 so I do have a time crunch. But, in the meantime, I’m determined to relax and enjoy the sights.
I take a short flight of rock stairs down to the trailhead for the Reef Bay Trail. Immediately, I’m greeted with a swift downward slope of hill. I start off and, as the trail goes at a 90 degree angle down, my only thought is, that I’ve got to beat that 4 hour time! My one drawback is – what goes down – must come up!
Here’s the thing I’ve discovered as I’ve hiked around the world. The shortest distance from point A to point B is a straight line. The Brits know this and their hill climbing is strenuous, but it’s a straight line up – don’t waste time, get from the bottom to the top. The Japanese know the same, but they put a slight curve in their trail, nothing drastic, just enough to keep a flow going. Other places, same with those gentle curves in the trail. Its straight up and its hard, but you get there in good time. However, Americans love their switchback tails. We’ll go down a few feet on a mountain and then, wham, switchback to the other side. Wrapping around a mountain, back and forth, back and forth. We cover so many extra miles in mere switchbacks that a 2.5 mile trail is actually probably only a half a mile in sheer distance. Reef Bay Trail was no exception even though it was in the Virgin Islands. Half the time I spent just want to leap down off the trail and run to the next section of trail that I knew waited for me below.
But, I dutifully followed the rock strewn dirt path. Through dried up creek beds, over ancient root stumps swtichbacking the whole way.
I came across some old sugar plantation sites along the way and stopped for some quick snaps, but pretty much kept going the whole way until I got to the Pyroglyphs trail which I jutted off onto. It had been a quite hike all the way to here. I had passed maybe one or two other people who politely nodded or spoke a quick hello to me. It was great time to just ponder and pray and think and admire how dense and different things were here.
At the Pyroglyphs trail, I met about 3 groups of people coming out, so I was able to continue on by myself even here. I hiked past rock walls and all kinds of exotic nature and finally emerged at some smooth, sheer rock walls that held small pools at various points. I knew that it had had something to do with some volcanic activity at one time or another – there was a small sign that said as much. I could see across the rocks to the other side where there was another of the same type of sign, which I presumed said about the same thing, but I started to hike over anyways to take a look. Half way across the rocks, I heard some chattering and look down to see a back of mongoose – mongeese – mongooses – whatever the plural is there was a whole pack of them chattering away and taking drinks out of one of the pools. I’m pretty brave, but the bunch of them freaked me out a little and the other sign was kind of in the woodsy area, so I decided that it must indeed say the same thing and so I turned around and retraced my steps. Ah – the Pyroglyphs. I could say I’d seen them now. Again – snap some pictures and turn back on the trail.
Down down I keep on going on the trail until I all of a sudden feel a change in the path under my feet. Its more sandy that dirt now. Not as many rocks – AND – I hear one of my favorite things. I hear the sound of water. Big waves of water making a distant “whoosh” sound. I’m making excellent time! I started at a little after noon and its just 1pm now. I’m super hiker!
Within a short time, I emerge to see a whole sugar mill still standing, but in ruins. I climb around inside shooting more pictures and then head down another trail which comes out at the water. A bright blue beach is glistening in the sun and several people are out snorkeling. The beach front itself is quite except for the strewn shoes and shirt lying around from the snorkelers.
I decide after about a 15 minute break that I should start heading back up just to figure in time for getting transport back to the town. I start up but within about 3 feet, I see another little trail jutting off from the major trail. This one is not marked and you can tell that many various feet have just beat it out of the hillside, but, it’s a trail. And to super hiker – it’s a trail that must be taken. I have several little thoughts swirling around in my head like, it must lead somewhere. Overall, it my overriding compulsion that overtakes me. Its like a neurotic neat freak – that one thing is out of order and for hours and hours and hours, it can stress out and agonize the neat freak until they have to go back and straighten it. I’m a neurotic trail freak – if there’s a trail there – I have to take it. If I don’t, then I wind up back up on top and for hours I’ll beat on myself that I didn’t take that trail. I’ll think about what was on the trail and what I might have missed.
So – take the trail I did. As I’m going up, the other part of my neurotic brain kicked in and I started thinking “there MUST be a view up here!” I was going up hill and the Caribbean was beating the shores below. I’m SURE that this trail must lead up to the top of the mountain and the most amazing view ever and I’ll be one of the few people who gets to see this amazing trail. I kept walking.
Thornbushes grabbed at me. The sun beat down on me as there weren’t trees big enough to cover me, but large enough to cover any view that might have existed below. The rocks slipped from under me, but I continued to hike. Expecting to see come around some bend and be greeted with the sparkling blue waters of the Caribbean, I continued to climb. By now, the sweat was pouring down my back and I was slick with damp and dirt. And the whole time, I was reciting in my head “my name is Alison and I’m a view addict.” I’m a out and out view junkie! I’ll do absolutely anything if I think there’s an amazing view to be had.
Here’s the thing about being an addict – the thing that you think will bring you the most pleasure and will give you that ultimate feeling of completion – frequently does not yield the so expected result. Yes – my anticipated view was squealched by the trail coming to a complete stop at – nothing. A rock, some trees, some scrub brush – and the sound of the Caribbean in the distance. Tantalizing and beating on the unseen shore. I had killed myself for a view that did not exist. Sigh – the lesson of the addict is, learn from the frequent disappointment and don’t go there next time. Remember that it never gives you what you want. But do addicts ever learn? Sometimes, yes – most of the time, no. I know that I’ll continue to take the strenuous path in search of the non existent view – I wish they made a patch for someone like me. But, since they don’t make patches for view-addicts, I’ll continue to climb those paths and sometimes face disappointment – and sometime, be pleasantly surprised when the sea peaks out over the top of the mountain and the sun is setting in a big orange ball in the distance.
To continue with the rest of the story. I complete the trail (stopping at a few point along the way to set the camera on some rocks and do a few crazy timed shots of me lurking among ancient sugar mill ruins. I get to the top and try calling the number given to me for a taxi. No answer. I see one taxi pass but it is completely full and passengers are pouring out the sides of the two lines of bench seats. I wait for another 15 minutes and then decide to call mom or Aunt June and ask them to go and send a taxi up – which they’re promptly told there are no taxis to be had. Long and short – after about 45 minutes, which I alternate between looking at the road and reading my book, mom finally jumps in a taxi and drives up with him as he’s terrified that he’ll come up for me and I’ll be gone….. Seriously – there’s nothing within several miles – theres a winding road that you can’t see past 2 feet of and the climb is straight up – where am I going? But mom comes up with him so he knows at least he has one passenger to come down. When I am picked up – I get a stern lecture from him that at least 5 taxis have passed me and I should have taken one of them. Wow – I must be taxi-blind…. You’d think I would have noticed a big truck with the back cut out and stacked with row after row of passengers seats, painted some exotic purple or red color.
We decide to grab a bit to eat at a local restaurant right on the pier. They serve me the best conch fritters I’ve tasted yet. In fact, I’m tempted in the following day, just to take the ferry back over to get a second taste of those amazing round, conch filled treats! I don’t though – maybe I should have. Hmmm….
One thing is for sure, when we do jump on the ferry back over, we’re treated to the setting sun and some of the best views of the harbor and the islands ever. I did get my view – maybe not where I expected it – but I did get it!

Oh - here's another side note... the other thing I discovered is that I don't read everything completely and thoroughly. I discovered, upon my arrival back into the town in St John a little more about the Pyroglyphs. Auntie Clarice was talking about them and asked if I had seen them and I said "yes" and then she continued to describe how they were prehistoric and blah blah. Come to find out -- I should have ventured over by that little sign because the Pyroglyphs were actually prehistoric writing on the walls of that volcanic pool formation. D'oh! I was so tempted to tell them to leave without me and take a taxi back to that stupid trail and head back down so that I could get that view -- but instead, I bit my bottom lip and got on the boat and sadly went back to St Thomas without ever seeing the Pyroglyphs.... Sad....

Monday, February 22, 2010

Going It Alone

Today was my alone day. I took off for a pool below the condos and mom and the aunts went to the pool that was up. It just ended up that way and I liked it just fine. I didn't have to listen to anyone talk or tell me that I needed to get out of the sun, etc. Its like the movie "Enchanted April" where the one woman just wanted to go and rest for a month and the other older ladies kept on nagging her about eating and putting a hat on and doing things with everyone. It gets tiring when you just want to relax and recoup.

I did have this naggy feeling all day that I should be out kayaking or hiking or scuba diving or something active - but all I could do is lay there and let the sun soak up in my skin. It felt so good.

My time was alternated between sleeping and reading this great book called "Going It Alone" - a bunch of stories written by women who travel alone and stories from the road. Maybe some day I'll treat you all to a few of my favorite "going it alone" stories :)

My treat for the day for you all is my friend, the lizard who sunned himself on the bush right about my head. He started on one bush and I got up to take a picture. Moving in closely, he all of a suddedn decided to scamper to another bush and scared the creepers out of me. He literally sat on the one bush the whole day I was there and then, when I went to leave, he decided to leave as well.

Since mom and the aunts had gone on the Havenspoint to do lunch and some shopping. I stayed at the pool later and then just went back into Redhook to eat again. This time I went to a little Tiki Bar divey place and it proved to be good food. I was then determined to drive up to a place called Ravens Seat that was way up on top of the island and offered a view of Magans Bay, one of the best beaches in the world, supposedly. I actually met Aunt Clarece and Aunt June and mom driving back up from town right at the road I had to turn on for the Seat view and so they followed me up. Well - loosely speaking - they ended up totally going some other way and ended up viewing the other side of the island. Well -- my view was splendid, as you can tell.

Sometimes its worth it to go it alone as sometimes you get the greatest view and the most relaxation for your buck!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

On A Side Note

For those of you who were wondering if mom had a good birthday... I went out again in the evening by myself to grab some dinner, as, apparently, when you're over 70 you lose your ability to eat dinner in the evening and you end up calling your lunch your big meal. Anyways - I went out and sat by the water sipping a drink and reading my book (which - I really am on vacation as I splurged and the one book I was reading bored me so - I switched to another book mid book -- who-hoo... I've gone wild!). When I finally went to leave the restaurant a few hours later, I took out my phone and saw I had a message from Aunt June. When I picked up the message - I heard all this chitter chatter in the backgroun and then, all of a sudden, Aunt June came on with this pleading voice asking me to come back and help them fix the tv as they couldn't get it to work after I got their DVD to play. It was desperate and hilarious!

I got back and as soon as I pulled in the parking lot, I heard their voices crackling out the screen door with laughter. I had stopped to pick up a cake for mom and some ice cream that Auntie Clarece loves (Udder Delight) and when I walked in they all looked at me and quite proudly said in unison "We figured out the tv - we didn't need you!"

I felt so loved...

Then, they all sat back and continued their crowing laughter. Seriously - it was crowing and just funny listening to them.

We all had cake and, needless to say, mom was rolling with laughter. They were laughing about some little inside joke that they now had going on and were just having a blast. I think mom had a good birthday!

Mmmm - Danish....

Its a double whammy.... Its mom's birthday AND its Sunday!

While Auntie Clarece is in St Thomas she always goes to this church, its St Thomas Reformed Church. Its a pretty cute looking church and it was neat to go and see tons of different kinds of people intermingling. As we drove to church, we saw about a hundred different churches with black people making their way through the open doors in their best finery and prettiest hats. But when we got to this church, there were white people, asians, blacks - it was pretty mixed and everyone was just happy to be together. Its always neat to see that kind of diversity and to see everyone "co-existing".

So - it was the church's birthday celebration in the fact that they were celebrating their 350th year. Also, they were celebrating "Transfer Day" which is the day when the island was officially handed over from the Danish (saying that word always makes me hungry) to the U.S. The U.S. bought St Thomas from the Danish (mmm) in 1917 for 25 million dollars. So, St Thomas Reformed church was doing this celebration where they copied the whole service. They did the songs and all and the pr even preached the message that was preached on that day in 1917. It was from I Kings where David handed the throne over to Solomon. It was interesting historically speaking, but it was not a really great sermon as far as scripture and the gospel and all. I must admit, it really bordered on boring. But that aside, it was cool as they had the big pipe organ above the church in the back and the choir sang from the back loft. There were the hurricane shutters all around the room that opened up to let the air through and there were these slowly turning ceiling fans. The pews were amazingly UNcomfortable, the better to keep us awake, and the pr preached from a high lectern which was draped with the Danish (mmm) flag.

After the sermon we left our car in the rather overcrowded church parking lot that there was no way we were going to get out of, and we walked down the little street to where all the shopping was. Mom and Aunt June and Aunt Clarece were intent on shopping and I was looking longingly at the sun that was finally choosing to shine its bright light out from behind some interspersed rain clouds. There were lace shops and nine hundred million jewelery shops and t-shirt shops and every shop you could imagine. So now, after sitting and hearing about the Danish (mmm) all morning on an empty stomach, I was being tormented by the slow, death walk of shopping.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good shop and there are times that I'm intent on finding some great things, but, as this was the beginning of my week long, do-nothing, vacation, and as it had been raining almost the whole time so far, all I wanted to do was eat and get to the beach!

The last shop we meandered by before mom choosing her birthday restaurant, was one that Auntie Clarece said Uncle Si always insisted on going in. It was an nautical antique store and it actually looked quite intriguing to me, but we bustled past it and wound up looking at menus. We finally decided on a restaurant but actually had about 10 minutes until we could be seated, so I excused myself and headed back to the Antique store.

So cool! It had flags from old old ships and coins and bottles and all kinds of stuff. And then - I found it -- my thing -- a case filled with jewelery that was made from salvaged china. These pendants were so cool and I fell in love. I ended up buying one but it was struggle choosing between two of them. I had warned them that I would probably end up coming back. Sure enough, as I was eating, it hit me - that feeling that I get when I go somewhere and I see something that I fall in love with but end up thinking that I shouldn't spend the money on it and then I go home and I pine for that thing and think "Stupid!" So - I quickly figured in my head that I should just go back and spend the money and get the second piece as well. YEA! They were actually surprised when I walked back in, but I told them I had given them fair warning :)

We got back to the condo and I ran for my swimsuit and the beach -- unfortunately, yet another hard rain came in. All the others had gone back to their rooms for naps, so I decided it was time for some alone time. I love all three of those ladies - but they can TALK! Its non-stop and its so tiring and I just needed a break already. I grabbed my keys and ended up just driving around in the rain exploring.

I drove up on a road that led to a beach called Magan's Bay (we'll go there later). Driving in St Thomas is VERY interesting -- not only the left hand thing, but the roads are very very narrow and they all seem to run right in conjunction with a cliff. But, I LOVE the windy, zippy roads that go straight up at almost 90 degree angles. My little Toyota actually has pretty good pick up and I can get up quickly (Auntie C's Kia just chokes every time it tries to go up). So, I'm going up this windy, narrow road and I come to this crest and there is the most amazing view of the ocean and the islands and I'm SO mad because there is absolutely nowhere to stop and just take in the view! AH!

By the time I started back, it was once again pouring rain. I don't know exactly what we're going to do for the evening, but I think I'm going to go and try to find a danish.... MMM - danish....
Auntie Clarece's cat-friends who always hang outside her door because she feeds them.... :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Two Aunties And Some Irony

The view from our condo balcony

As we swooped in to make our landing at the Cyril E. King airport of St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, the black clouds had started to make their appearance.

Our landing was smooth, and as all tropical island deplanings go, it was typical. The aircraft opened at both the front and aft and a dual set of stairs was pushed up in order to let the clamoring tourists escape to their exotic destination to spend dollars and time before returning back to the nitty gritty of life. We were carefully instructed to go slowly down the stairs and DO NOT TAKE PICTURES as we exited (that one I'm sure was hard for many as the view, after the trend of cold in the states, was amazing). We got down the shaky stairs and then headed towards baggage claim, following a zig zaggy sidewalk around the perimeter of the airport building, luckily covered by a shelter as the rain started to pelt down. The black clouds were hanging extremely low over the mountains as we finally came out to the exit and we greeted by two loud, exhuberantly waving Aunties calling "You-hoo!"

After hugs and chatter, we made our way around with another line of passengers to the baggage claim area where mom and one Aunt waited for the bags while I tossed a coin between two of the three rental car counters, trying to remember which rental company I had reserved with. Unfortunately, I stood in a line for 15 minutes at Budget waiting, only to be told at the counter "Sorry, we don't have your reservation", so I had to go next door to Avis to do the same there.
After getting the rental car and then having one Aunt follow me around the parking lot looking for the Avis rental car section, I finally heard the wailing success of the panic button I had pressed 20 times in our venture. We found the car, and I began to find how strange the Island was....

So - here's the crux. From what I know, the island was bought from the Danish by the U.S back in the 1800s (along with St Johns). I believe all of the other Virgin Islands are British so it did surprise me that these two had been owned by the Danish. Anyways - I know there is always a remnant of something left by the British in every previously owned-by-the-British country I've been in, but I had a hard time with what was left behind by the Danes here. So - the cars they drive are typical "American" cars in that the steering wheel is on the left side of the car like at home. However, THEY DRIVE ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE OF THE ROAD! And whats even crazier is - THE YELLOW LINES ARE STILL IN THE MIDDLE - so, unlike England, where I can always just think, "I'm always by the yellow lines and my passenger is by the white" -- now I have to swap that and think "I'm always by the white lines and my passenger is by the yellow". WHY!!!!!! ST THOMAS!!!!!!! GET WITH THE PROGRAM!!!!! Make up your mind - you're either British or your American.... which side are you going to commit to?????

So, as Aunt June and I drove back by baggage claim to get our bags, we drove past the front of the airport where, on the right side, there was a police SUV pulled over. By the SUV, there was a small grass partition leading up to the parking lot and, in front of a parked SUV, there was a woman lying completely prostrate in front of the car on the grassy area. Lying completely unconscious! And, by the police SUV, two St Thomas police officers where fighting to get a man in the back of the SUV. I'm driving by, all of a sudden realizing what was happening, and Aunt June is chattering away. My eyes are huge and my mouth is open and I say "Oh my word - there was a woman lying on the ground back there!" And Aunt June says "Where?!" Completely missed it and I don't know how! I mean, it was an all out brawl. Too funny! By the way - it did look kind of proverbial trailer trashy so I'm not sure what the deal was.

We get the bags and get them loaded in my car and Aunt June says she's going to drive with me and mom can drive with Auntie Clarece. Trouble. Mom is a talker and Auntie Clarece is a talker (I love them both! :). On top of that, Aunt June warns me, Auntie Clarece doesn't like driving at night AND she always drives very very slow.

I would like to now put in my two cents --- AUNTIE CLARECE DRIVES VERY VERY SLOW.... How slow? you ask. Let me tell you how slow Auntie Clarece drives with a rather tedious, but worthwhile answer.....

We're following Auntie Clarece from the airport and we go down a few roads, very slowly, and the she comes to a light and, mind you we're driving on the left side, she makes a left hand turn on the red light. She follows a car, but there is another car coming and ends up right on her tail and honks his horn. Behind him comes another car, an SUV, and as Aunt June and I are wondering "so can you do a left hand turn on red here?" we all of a sudden see blue flashing lights. Right away, I knew they were going after Auntie Clarece. Sure enough, he pulls her over into a gas station and we follow in and sit back waiting. He rolls down his window and is talking to her and then lets her go so, we follow her out of the gas station.

Auntie Clarece getting pulled over :)

We continue following her through the town, winding up and down the roads on hills. We come to a turn with a light which, as Auntie Clarece is driving up, it turns yellow. Because its red by the time I get to it I have to stop. And then Aunt June starts to "panic" a little because she's not sure how to get home. We finally get a green and zip off - up and down roads trying to find her little white Kia. We're starting to look for hotels in a while as we both figure we're lost on the island and should just wait until morning, when all of a sudden we find her. YEA!

Her condos are in a litte area called "Red Hook" and so we drive that way and, this whole time, they've been talking about a great little restaurant they want to take us to for dinner. We finally get the and, after circling and scouring, we find two parking places.
So - here's the answer to your resounding question - "How slow does Auntie Clarece drive?". We park and get out of our cars and the first thing Aunt June says is "Clarece - I can't believe you got pulled over?! You weren't supposed to turn there on a red, were you?" and Auntie Clarece says "I could turn there - I was fine. He pulled me over because" -- okay, wait for it "I was going too slow." He actually told her "Ma'am, you're going too slow, you need to go faster." WOW! I mean, you get pulled over for going too slow!!! How slow do you have to be going????

Here's the irony part of the story. You know how my last post was about AM I FLYING TO IRELAND? And, as you could tell, I actually wrote that while we were on the plane on the way over. When we landed, as soon as we saw the Aunties, they were both going on about how they were going to take us to this great restaurant in Red Hook, blah blah blah. We get to Red Hook and, you'll never guess what the restaurant was.... It was MOLLY MALONE'S IRISH PUB. Seriously!!!! We're sitting right on the ocean, in tropical weather, listening to some guy belt out "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and eating bangers and mash and fish and chips. I had to laugh pretty hard at the irony of that!

Well - its been a treat so far. I'm not great at the patience thing so - now I'm having to triple it. Aunt June isn't so bad, but the other two are always saying "What?" and I'm having to repeat everything I say 20 times but they don't hear because they're talking over me. Two of them talk talk talk talk. Aye! But, they're all having a good time and we enjoyed some sun today before some more raing started pelting us, making us leave the pool and go to the shops. Pooh - I had to buy some cute tops and some new flip flops that are AMAZING -- made out of yoga mats so you just sink down into them. LOVE IT!

I also have had conch fritters two times already! YUM! Its been ages since I used to be in the Bahamas and the Keys all the time since I've had conch fritters. Ok - if you don't know what that is, they're amazing. They're fritters, but they have conch meat in them. If you don't know what conch is, its pronounced "konk" and its the things that live in those big sea shells that you would hold up to your ear to hear the ocean. They've got that pretty pink lining (in fact, I bought a conch ring tonight - its got a stone made out of conch and its really cool!). Take a look at the picture and I'm sure you'll recognize what I'm talking about and may actually have learned something new! :) They make all kinds of yummy stuff with conch, like fritters and soup and stew.

Stay posted for the next episodes of, On An Island With Three Grandmas! Oh - by the way, grandmas aren't so bad - I spent about 10 minutes listening to them tell me how pretty I was and how beautiful my eyes were and my hair and blah blah. It came out of nowhere, I was just standing there and they started. It was quite reaffirming - you should try spending time with grandmas!

Shuffle Butts / OR / Wait! Am I Flying To Ireland?!

This story will be composed of two separate stories. Each may be separate but they will be invaluably interrelated as you will come to find that the first story will tell a story that will relate to the second story and if the second story is not told, it will make the first story lose the full meaning that it could not have without the second story.
I am currently flying on a flight to St Thomas with my mom. We flew in to Charlotte (yes, God help me, Charlotte once again) from Chicago and then had to sit for a few hours waiting for our flight to St Thomas. We flew into Charlotte on United – wonderful, organized, get the passengers on and take off United. We are flying US Air from Charlotte to St Thomas. Horrible, squished together, circus flight, lets make 'em wait on the ground as long as we can US Air. Help.
I booked our tickets quite a while ago and had been sure that I had put mom and I sitting by each other. However, when I checked when I was at the airport earlier this week, I was informed that we were not sitting together, but there was nothing United could do to change the seats as it was a code share flight with US Air and US Air had to change it. I figured if we got there early enough, they would be able to put us together. No can do. We were stuck – mom in 10 A and Alison in 12 B.
The flight was supposed to leave at 11:20 but because the flight that was coming in from Providence whose plane we would be using was delayed, our flight changed from 11:20 to 12:10 to 12:15 to 12:30. We went down to the gate just to make sure and sure enough – we started boarding at – 12:30. I’m pretty terrible at math, but I quickly figured in my head, if Alison boards plane in Charlotte at 12:30, Alison will not be leaving Charlotte at 12:30. It was like one of those math problems they give you in 4th grade, only this one was pretty easy.
We got on the plane and took our respective seats. I told mom to make sure the people sitting by her were together and I told her I’d see if the people I was sitting by were together. That way we could figure out if there could be a switch made.
Mind you, St Thomas is not Pittsburgh or Kansas City or Des Moines – one of those relaxing cities that love birds fly away to for a weekend. Joke – It is the love bird paradise (this was quickly reaffirmed to me as I stood in the midst of 20 couples loudly making out with each other, waiting to board the plane – theres nothing worse than that loud, slow, wet kissing sound that people make… that DOES NOT come from a place of single jealousy – that comes from a lifelong place of sheer naseauated disgust). So, it was no surprise to get on the flight and find out that everyone on the flight was travelling with at least one person if not even a group.
I quickly figured out that I was sitting by two people who were unrelated to anyone else in the cabin. Woman A was a middle aged woman who smelled of age and extended travel time. Woman B was an old Mexican woman who had left her house at 2 that morning and had mistakenly grabbed a bottle of Raid and doused herself in it rather than her old woman Chanel de Smog. Woman A and I shifted around and stepped in the aisle to allow Woman B to enter our row and take her seat by the window. We then re-enetered our row and settled, whereupon, Woman B exclaimed in her old lady Mexican voice “Whad seed is dis I am sitting in?” to which I kindly replied “If you would learn to read the English alaphabet, you would discover that you are in seat 12A” to which she exclaimed “I dun no if I am in da rite seed – but I will not let you see my ticket so you can help me figure dis out – no, I will keep my ticket close to my chest and waft my scent of Raid as I wave my arms and try to figure out if I am in da right seed!” As I was ready to turn blue with the toxic scent, she then discovered she belonged in 12D. Woman A and I then re-exited our cozy seeding assignment and let her out. There she stood in the aisle still contemplating that this was the right move. After three times of playing some Sesame Street redition of following the bouncing finger, I was able to point to the numbers and letters on the bin above her seat and the numbers and letters on her ticket stub. Happily she clambored into her new row and I motioned mom to come back.
Since I am Star Gold with the Alliance, mom and I were allowed to be some of the first to board. So, by the time we had actually settled in our seats, all the other crowds were making their way on. And – they were all discovering that they were in the same predicament as mom and I. Bob’s two year old daughter was seated in seat 9C while her mother was screaming from seat 3F to her husband who was logically seated in 27B. Husbands who were seated in 24C bartered with grandmothers who were placed in 10D. Pandamonium had struck. “Hi, I’m supposed to be in 12 F but my wife is in 9A. Can I trade seats with you so we can sit together? “ “well, I’m not sure, I’m quite happy sitting in my middle seat of 9B here. Its very comfortable and I’ve begun to think of it has home. What is the seat again that you want me to sit in?” “”12F – it’s a lovely window seat” “Window seat you say? Hmmm… what would the view be like? Do you know your neighbors?” “I believe the view is extraordinary and I have recently run the credit reports of those sitting by that seat and they are upstanding citizens!” “ Hm, well, I suppose I can go back and try it. But if I don’t like it, I’m going to come back and get this seat back.” 3 MINUTES LATER “Hi – I went back and checked out 12F and I’m just not satisfied. I know we had discussed a return policy and I would now like to take advantage of that. I really do miss the middle seat feeling of being sequestered in a small womb. “ To which Husband and Wife gaily trip back down the aisle inquiring at every side – “Hi – will you trade seats with me” and are followed by a long snake-like line of people waiting to actually get to their seats which are on the other side of Husband and Wife.
Heads are continually going down and then popping up and squeezing around other people to readjust themselves in other locations which are closer to someone that they know and love. Finally, a group of 9 people have retooled and bargained off with enough other people that now they are all seated together – behind us. They’re on their way to a wedding. There is much laughter and merriment and loud joking – AND LOUD joking. I suddenly have flashbacks of another flight so long ago.
It was 2008 and I had taken mom, dad and Aunt June on a small island tour in the land of the Queen. We – okay – I had decided that since we were right there, they should all get a glimpse of the land of the green so we boarded a flight in Birmingham, England and departed for Dublin, Ireland. Well – that made it sound quick and painless. Quick and painless it was not. We flew the good ol’ airline of Ryan Air which is Ireland’s answer to Southwest – “y’all get on board now, ya hear! Just push and shove your way on and find any seat that you can and hurdle yourself in and strap yourself in!” Well, the difference was Ryan Air did have seating assignments, and apparently the Irish do not dare impede the process of the seating assignments. So, they all stayed in their respective seats, but then stood and yelled at the others who were in their party. “Ian – ya! We’r gonna have da’ time o’ our lives tunite!” There was loud laughter and frivolity as Mickey O’Toole flirted with Shannon O’Reilly and then Finnigan McHandishan talked about playing cards with Sullivan O’Sullivan. Hooping and hollering – it was Friday and all was good with the Irish world waiting. And there my 85 year old dad, and my 70 something mom and Aunt sat until my mom had finally had enough of the noise and started “shushing” everyone who dared carry a decibel louder than 2. The one great thing about Ryan Air, though – we took off on time!
US Air – lets do some simple 4th grade math problems here. If 200 people change their seats 20 times and 40 of those people end up getting up 30 times to go to the bathroom before the door is closed 45 minutes after the listed take off time – what time did we actually take off. If you said 1:30 – you would have just won some type of scholarship – if I were giving out scholarships for doing meaningless, nonsenseacle word problems. Every time another little gray head would pop up like the spring calling groundhog and pivot their head both ways before spotting the words “Toilet” and then have everyone in their row get up so they could shuffle back to the facilities, I would scream in my head (or it may have been out loud – that could have explained all the people around me shrinking away from me) “Sweet Monkeys!!!! Sit down you Metamucil induced fool! You may have retired, but I have to be back here by next Saturday to start the process over again!” I began seeing the logic of backing a program for airline attendants to carry some type of weapon or at least a syringe full of a logic serum… there’s got to be something like that out there!
Before long – I say this proverbially as it was actually way too long… - everyone was buckled into their little seats and the US Air “We Really Want You To Be Safe” video was playing. We learned how to buckle our seats belts, and then a lady and a little girl demonstrated how we should not panic if we needed oxygen masks. It was also very informative to find out that, since we were flying over a large body of water, we did have life vests under the seat in front of us! Hey – that’s really cool! Theres a life vest under the seat in--- WAIT! I just tried to bend over to take a look at this alleged life vest and I’ve leaned forward at a 20 degree angle only to have the seat in front of me – directly in front of me. Wait – now the old lady in the seat in front of me is reclining her seat – I’m now at a 5 degree angle and I can see her nose hairs as I’m looking over the top of her seat. Dear Maria! I can’t even see my feet! I’m so appreciative that they’ve put a life vest under the seat in front of me and have instructed that for my safety I should leave all my items behind if I need my life vest. Unforatunately, I’ve discovered that in order to get my life vest, I need to get my purse which is directly under the life vest. At this point, I’m planning my escape…. Ok – get strap of purse looped around big toe. Elbow mom as I frantically grab purse and throw behind me. Bend my body in half and retrieve life vest under seat in front of me. Get stuck under seat in front of me. End up praying the Lord’s prayer as by this time I’m facing a watery death in the most humiliating yoga position not known.
Can I revert back to the Ryan Air flight long enough to say that, on Monday, when we returned back to sedate, sleepy Birmingham – that’s what our flight was. All the people who had been yelling and cursing and laughing going over to Ireland were now sitting quietly in their seats with their sunglasses on and their head in the hands. Who cares where their best buddy was sitting or where their darling Maureen was assigned to – all they cared about was quiet – peace and quiet. Mom got her “shush”.
Back to St Thomas – I know the island is small – all I ask is that it be larger than this plane. And that everyone just find their seats and sit down! Oh - and make sure I can reach my life vest, please!


Do I even need to say anything more..... 5 times in a little over two weeks.... what's wrong with this proverbial picture.....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Story of the Wood That Talked

In order to get up to date on the new Murphree baby’s name-sake, I’m reading the book “Kin of the Cannibals – The Story of John G Paton”.
I’m towards the end of the book when John marries his second wife, Margaret, and moves to a safer island in the New Hebrides, Aniwa.
I had this huge backflash of a story that I remember from when I was little. I believe it was on an Uncle Charlie record or Children’s Bible Hour or something. I can totally hear this story in my head as I’m reading it in the book.
John was building his mission home and some of the natives were helping him. While they were building, John ran out of a few of the supplies he needed and so he picked up a piece of wood and wrote a note on it. Then he called one of the natives who he was working with and gave him the piece of wood and told him that he needed him to bring the wood to his wife so she could send more supplies. The native asked him what he wanted to tell his wife but John said the wood would tell her what he needed. The man could not believe that John’s wife could know what John would want, but he took the wood and left for John’s current house.
As he walked, the native kept thinking “how can wood talk”. He could not figure how the wood would tell Margaret what she needed.
When he got to Margaret, he gave her the wood, she read what was written on it, and then collected all the things John needed and gave them to the man. He could not believe it! The wood had talked to John’s wife and had told her what John wanted!
He ran back to John with the items and asked him how the wood could talk!
John then told him how he had written words on the wood that Margaret read and then knew what John wanted. He ended up using it as an opportunity to tell the native how he could teach him to read his own words and then he could read a book from God and he could hear God talking from the book.
Its totally a cool story in the respect that I remember it so well from when I was younger – I can hear the “natives” voice and everything.
It’s a cool story – period!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Calvin's Big Snowy Day

The great big snow that we had in IL a few weeks back -- we still had to brave the dog park -- it was the perfect time to strap on the ol' snowshoes and frolic!

Calvin and a friend having fun in the 12 plus inches of snow!

Mr Calvin and his winter coat get quite hot so its nice to just take a break now and then!

No - Calvin did not shovel that sidewalk! But he did have fun chasing the shovel that did all the work!

The Ballad Of Bobby Joe Jimbob And The Nashville Airport

After getting in at 3 am on Friday from my southern snowy week, it was much appreciated that we had Monday, President's Day off! Hooray for Presidents! Big ones small ones short ones tall ones -- presidents rule! Literally!
Of course, Monday was packed trying to fit in everything that I couldn't after being gone the week - AND - I'm trying to prep for St Thomas! Yea! As soon as I get back this week, I'm leaving for Virgin Islands!
So, Tuesday was a bright start as I got locked on another plane at 7am. This one going to Nashville.

Nashville -- I love that place - NOT. I've spent way too much time there and at Opryland for sales meetings and trade shows and all kinds of other junk. Opryland Hotel -- my spine just shuddered. Any hotel that has to give you a map and a gps unit to find your room --- thats just not pleasurable. And the airport -- crazy! They have every single country western singer in existance giving some kind of airport message. "Hello, this is Daisy Rae Buttercup saying Ya'll come back now!" "Ye-haw - this is JoJo Billy Bob saying - watch your bags!" "Hey folks - this is Bobby Bob Bobberson - if you want directions to anywhere in Nashville, just ask our information desk down by the baggage claim" "Daisy Duke here - if you sneeze, make sure you cover your mouth and wash your hands!" (ok, it wasn't Daisy Duke that said it - but that is seriously one of their announcements!). Every 3 minutes, some twing twangy, double first named cowboy is giving us some kind of cliche information. Gotta love it! And cowboy boots -- all over!

So - after our breakfast meeting at Cracker Barrel :) Could that be any more stereotypical of the south???? I got dropped back off at the airport, just in time to jump on another plane that took me back to Chicago in order to get on another place to go to Minneapolis where I have to go back to finish up a project I'm working on. And here I sit, waiting for about an hour until my flight is ready. I could have jumped on an earlier flight possibly, but I just wanted a chance to sit for a few.

I actually have time right now to get in another post! Wow ! Two in one day let alone two in one week! Y'all sure are lucky! :)

The Week of the Freak Snow! Or - The Week That Made the South Stop! Or - GET ME OFF THIS PLANE!

Flying over NC - snow free! AND Hitting the coast of Tampa!

As I write this post, I’m sitting on the runway in Charlotte, NC. Sad to say, this is the 4th time I’ve been in this airport in the past week and a half. That’s just too crazy…. The weather here is BAD – in terms of a North Carolinian. Its snowing and there’s about an inch and a half on the ground and the whole city is all but shut down. They seem to be a little more savy than Atlanta who has 6 inches and is completely down for the count. The boards in CLT glowed red with flights cancelled that were going to or through Charlotte.
So, we sit on the runway waiting to be de-iced. And, as the pilot has said, as Charlotte is not as well-versed in the art of deicing, we are sitting behind a row of about 20 - 30 places waiting for the same procedure. The captain has called the left line, in a series of three deicing lines, our line and there are 10 planes ahead of us there. As we’re just sitting waiting, we’re allowed to use computers and phones and so I hear a chorus of “blah blah blahs” ringing around me as people who are surrounded by people chose to reach out to other people who are not present. Its chatter all over as we sit facing our impending doom of a slightly less than eternity wait. My dear dear friend, Kim has volunteered to pick me up from the airport as I’ll be missing the last train home. I’m hoping and praying its not too late that we get in. On top of that I have another 9:30 mission board meeting at the church that I’m already too tired to go to.
So, the Charlotte airport came about this week because I found out last minute, Monday to be exact, that I needed to fly down to Orlando for a meeting. I technically was supposed to be going to Oklahoma for a couple of accounts. I had my flight and so I was trying to cancel my flight home to Chicago on Friday and replace it with a flight to Orlando from OK on Thursday and then a return to Chicago on Friday. With the weather that cropped up at home on Monday, I just had a bad feeling so I ended up cancelling my flight to OK and booking a flight to Tampa on Wednesday, planning to stay by my friends Matt and Karlene and then drive over to Orlando on Thursday. It ended up working out way better and, in fact, the woman who was supposed to cancel my OK flight, didn’t do it and so it was naturally cancelled because of weather on Tuesday. If I had cancelled it, I would have lost $150 but because she made a mistake and didn’t cancel it the day before, I got my full fare back. That worked out nicely!
I got in to Tampa around 4 on Wednesday and headed over to Matt and Karlene’s. We had dinner together and then Matt brought the three oldest boys to church for their kids’ program. Karlene and I got to hang out with the two little boys. She just had her 5th baby, Samuel, a few months ago. They all look very very much a like and area extremely adorable and pretty dog gone good for being – 5 boys. They’re all named Bible names for their first names and their middle names are after missionaries… Its kind of cool. I actually always remember Benjamin Eliot (Jim Eliot) and Jeremiah – Taylor??? (Hudson Taylor) but then I just lose it and can’t remember the other kids… Names like Jehoshaphat and Ebenezer and Goliath end up coming out. After I spend a few hours with them, I remember them again J The others are actually Elijah Carey (William Carey) and Isaac Judson (Adoniram Judson) and the newest one is Samuel Paton (John Paton). The 3 older boys all are taking violin or cello lessons and they all have these adorable little instruments. So cute! Karlene has always been a voracious reader and so she reads to the boys all the time. There is this one book that she reads that is written by a woman who lived in France during WWII and she and her family helped to hide Jews during the war. My favorite story with the boys is this one time I came to visit and Karlene had warned me that the boys were on a pirate kick and were drawing pictures and acting like pirates. So, when I got to their house, they all greeted me with these pictures they had drawn for me and when Jeremiah pushed his picture up to me, I looked it and laughed “there’s those pirates that your mom warned me about!” Jeremiah looked at me quizzically and then said “those aren’t pirates … they’re Nazis…” They’re always coming out with some funny comment.
So – Orlando was a meeting with some region managers and then I had another in-service that I had to do with about 25 of their inside sales reps. I actually had about 90 minutes but I tried not to over load, or so I thought. I divided my session into two different presentations… pictures and everything! Granted, one never knows what they’re like when they’re actually teaching or lecturing. I think there are some people that know that they’re boring or poor at giving presentations. I’m not that person. I don’t know whether I’m terrible, but in my head, somewhere, I think that I’m really good. The deep truth is, once I finish a presentation, I always know I’m not really good, but I hope I’m at least mediocre enough to be slightly informative. This session, I admit that at the second half, I saw about 3 sets of eyelids fluttering and even completely resting. But then, I did see others that were intently listening and taking notes. The one good thing I have going for me is, after all my education classes with Dr Jacquot – I do NOT say the word “UM”. No, I substitute phrases like “like I had said” (when I hadn’t actually said it before) and “what I was talking about” (when I haven’t talked about it before). Hey – no ones perfect! At least I know the problem I have – now I just need to fix it J
This is the other thing I hate when I do presentations. When I’m talking about something that I end up making a little funny joke about in order to make the subject more understandable and then I stand there and chuckle – and there are 25 people looking back at me with straight faces. Or, even worse, there are 23 faces looked back at me expressionless, but there are 2 that are doing that pitiful courtesy laugh because they’re just exceptionally nice people or – lets face it – they’re just brown-nosers…. J
So the captain just got on now, as we’ve been sitting motionless for the past 15 minutes, and he announced that “as you can tell, the deicing process is moving extremely slow and at this rate, we’ll be getting up to the head of the line by the spring thaw, so we won’t even need to be deiced”. This is not very promising….

We finally left, honestly, about 5 hours later... my battery had died :( What kept me sane was laughing at all the angry people who sat around me yelling out things about "I'll never fly US Air again!" and "I'm not going to come to the Charlotte airport"... and my favorite was the pretty, angry black woman who sat in a middle seat talking to herself quite loudly and making the people on either side of her look at her with fear. Finally, she said loudly "they CAN-NOT treat us this way!" and then she got up out of her seat (mind you, the captain had just gottten on and said to make sure we were sitting with our seat belts on because we may be taking off very quickly) and literally stomped up to the very front and the attendant who was in charge there. I heard a really hard hitting sound - on the wall that is - I think she slammed her fist into the wall of the place. Ok - that part didn't make me laugh at first because I got a little scared :) But, most of the comments kept me in check because I wanted to say "SERIOUSLY -- Do you think that US Air is the one to blame for a freak snowstorm in Charlotte when they haven't had snow in like 20 years! GET A LIFE!" I love the infrequent traveller!....

Saying goodbye to the beach that looked attractive even in the 48 degree weather!

Saying hello again to the Charlotte airport for the 4th time in a week and a half!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Three Days In the South Is Like - Three Days In the South

This week - I flew into Charlotte, NC in order to drive to Greenville, SC to stay before I went to my meeting in Alpharetta, GA. I love the south! I had to get three of the top southern states into one trip!
On Wednesday morning I flew from Chicago to Charlotte, a great “little” airport. Its actually fairly large, but I love the lay out and everything it has to offer. From Jamba Juice to Tequilas at Tequilera to good old southern BBQ – you can get it all in the Charlotte airport. Oh – the one thing that the Charlotte airport don’t have is Chick-Fil-A…. That just be wrong in the deep south!
So this is what makes me smile every time I first exit the plane at Charlotte. I love going into the washrooms just to see the smiling bathroom attendants! You got it! Every bathroom has this full stock of everything from lotion to mouthwash to tampons and there’s always a smiling southern woman to stock the supplies of cotton balls and q-tips and shoe polish and bbq sauce and grits… oops, that’s outside the bathroom….
Anyways – my first stop, as usual, this trip was the ladies room. As soon as I entered I was greeted by an elderly black woman (whatever if its not pc, but that’s what she was) was sang out “He—ll--o there sweetie! My name is Miss May and welcome to the Charlotte airport ladies room! “ There was another family of women that was following me in and so I quickly took a stall and just stood in there listening to her continue her song “I am here for you! I hope you will let me know if there is anything that you need! Are you staying in Charlotte? I hope you have a wonderful time! He—ll---o – my name is Miss May!” What I loved even more was listening to all the other polite, genteel southern ladies chirp back “W-ell! Hello Miss May! I am Helen! Thank you so much for welcoming me! This is a lovely bathroom!” Seriously! Those southern ladies are so pleasant and polite! It was the funniest thing and I just kind of hung out to listen to it for about 5 minutes until I figured my bladder would explode unless I did what I came in to do.
Verner was my bus driver to the rental car lot and he regaled me with tales of Charlotte and impending weather and then wonderfully told me that my car class was not available so I needed to either upgrade for free or take a smaller car at a price reduction. I chose the smaller Ford Focus and happily adjusted the seat and pushed on the Sirrius satellite radio that comes standard in almost every car now! I’m addicted to BBC1 at home (station 11 on Sirrius) and so its nice to travel and still get my station anywhere I go. “Its luvly” as my British friends would say.
It was hard not to bounce in my seat to the snappy music as I observed the temperature reader thing in the car panel progressively go up as I drove from Charlotte to Greenville. 53, 55, 56, 58, 60…. “It was luvly…” Especially after I had just flown in from the snowy, bleak cold of the Midwest. It was spring in the south! Well, at least for today!
I got to Greenville and stopped quickly at Wal-Mart (which was doing a blood drive and so they had a big "Blood Vessel" parked outside!) to pick up dinner for the evening as I was having the newphews, John and Joe, come to dinner at Aunt June’s house. I got their mom’s speciality – frozen Stouffers family size… and whipped together a slightly burnt devil’s food cake. (When asking my sister what the boys liked for dessert, she went to the other phone she was holding where she was talking to my brother-in-law, and he relayed that Joe liked chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. When asking what the boys liked to drink, I was told “Joe likes Barqs root beer. Apparently Joe is the vociferous one and no one really knows what John is thinking… I took a gamble that he’d be good with the chcocalate cake, but something told me he’d like the orange crush – which he drank about 4 bottles of the 6 – good guess!).
The boys came over around 5 and brought their laundry and just hung around chatting and eating guac and chips until dinner was ready. We finished dinner off and wound up watching a disgusting episode of Man V Food on the Food Network – all of his greats like eating hot wings and 7 lbs of hamburger in 45 minutes…. It made us feel better about all the food we had just consumed as it was nowhere near his volume!

Remember the scope thing that I was talking about the other week – well, Thursday was d-day when I had to

present my in-service to a sales force of 45. I drove over to Alpharetta in the morning. Alphar

etta is about 10 miles outside of Atlanta in a pretty up and coming little area. The shopping and restaurants were all trendy looking southern boutiquey things and the houses were ginormous two stories with columns and huge, fenced in back yards that had hills leading down to some wooded creek. Kudsu sprang up in huge patched here and there and BMWs and Land Rover

s were in every drive way and at every traffic light. Ah – so south!
The Endo company I made my way to was actually in a strip, office plaza, but was a nice office with tons of jovial southern gentlemen all laughing and being southern boyish. The VP and the CFO greeted me and we chatted, discussing my recent trip from Greenville. Whereupon I learned that the CFO grew up in Greenville and one of his best friends started the MBA program at Bob Jones Un. Later, I asked my nephew, who is a business major, if he had heard of this man, who is still teaching at BJ – Joe said with an awed look on his face “Are you serious – he’s the most AMAZING teacher!”
Anyways – after chatting for a while, Will, VP and Mike, CFO led me to the room where the sales meeting was taking place and then chatted with me about a video series they were doing on line for their products. Will had mentioned in an e-mail the day before that he would like for me to do a video spot for their detergent. While we were standing there, Will said, “why don’t we just go and shoot the video now”…. And so proceeded the most horrific half and hour that I’ve ever spent. I told him I didn’t appear on film and that I was in the witness protection program. I told him that I really should leave right then because – I thought – I heard – my mother calling…. I tried everything, but they were determined that I would do wonderfully. And so – they stuck me at this desk with a bottle of detergent and primped and thought about and shuffled all types of props and microphones and all else around me and then, the sweet and patient woman who was filming, videoed me about 100 times as I stumbled through these little spots on the product – which we make – and which I completely forgot what it actually was or did. We’d have to stop every now and again so they could tell me “oh say this” or “oh, say that”. Yes, that’s correct – they would tell me things to say as I didn’t have a script – I was just supposed to talk about the product. It was horrible horrible! But the one up side was that when I got into the room full of sales reps, the presentation seemed like cake. I actually really like doing in-services on care and handling and products and all so I kind of had fun with it and hoped they enjoyed my talking as much as I enjoyed talking to them J
I hung around through another presentation and then chatted with Will and Mark a little more and then took off – well, got on the road. I had to drive 8 miles of “back roads” to get to 85 – this took me exactly an hour! But, I did get back to Greenville in time to meet Joe and Jon and a friend of theirs, as well as Aunt June, for dinner at Mimi’s CafĂ© right down the road for Aunt June’s.
Friday morning, I was supposed to try and get to a hospital in the area but it didn’t work out so I got up early and went down the road to Starbucks to work for a few hours. I came back, picked up Aunt June and we went to Greer to try breakfast at Southern Thymes Restaurant – whereupon, we looked at the chintz curtains and the window and the old toothless men sipping coffee on mismatched vinyl chairs and decided to turn around and give Mimi’s some more business. We’re both sure that Southern Thymes probably had out of this work food that would make you tell numerous people later that day “I just had the BEST breakfast”…. But we couldn’t get past the ambiance – or lack thereof.
I spent a few hours over at my cousins before I headed back to Charlottte – and the wonderful bathrooms and bus drivers! I’ll say it again – I just LOVE the south! Oh – by the way – the temperature reading on the way back to the airport was now a dreary 38 – it wasn’t so bad leaving this way.
Oh – by the way – to counteract all the wonderful, goodness of the southerners. We got home to Chicago and because of weather we had to sit out on the runway for a while and wait for our gate – about 15 minutes to be exact. When we did get to “the gate”, it was actually just some stairs leading down. Because we were a smaller aircraft we were parked outside – about ½ mile for the door to the building. It was spitting rain and so most of us who had tagged bags taken at the door sat on the plane a little longer before going out to wait for our bags. Once we got out, the bags still weren’t there so we all kind of huddled in a little mass of about 9 men and 2 women. They finally got the bags out of the cargo hold and brought the cart around to us and, not kidding, the men just lurched forward, pushing past the two women who were standing there. The other woman just kind of looked over at me and I made a comment about “what gentlemen…” She finally got forward and I thought everyone had gone. So I finally stepped forward to reach for my bag on the cart and, not kidding again, this man bounded down the steps and jumped right in front of me and grabbed his bag. I just stepped back and threw my hands up in the air and wanted to yell – anyone else! Please is there any other man on this runway that would like to push me aside! I refrained myself though. And here’s the kicker – when I finally got in the long, snacking line to make out way, through the green outlined path which led from the plane to the building, the guy in front of me had THREE bags! He had a pretty big duffel bag that he was carrying on, plus another plane size suitcase, PLUS a computer bag swung over his shoulder…. AND… the computer bag said ARMY on it…. So – this Army guy not only cheated on his carry on bag allowance, but he also shoved in front of me to get his over stock of carry on bags. I thought they were taught better in the Army….
The moral of this story – I’m not sure if its that northern boys are rude compared to southern boys (I’ve got to presume since they came from Charlotte to Chicago that they’re northern) OR southern boys, once they leave their motherland, become just as rude as the northern boys (that’s if they were actually southern boys from Charlotte who are visiting the north). Either way – boys, remember that the girl you cut in front of is someone’s sister – mother – daughter – wife – granddaughter or some such thing and that if their brother – father – husband – grandfather or some such thing were there – they’d probably beat you up!

Greenville is the headquarters for BMW - which is
right down the road to from my Aunt,

The giant peach always marks my spot between Charlotte and Greenville!